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Clean and Jerk

Emily Flake

By Mink Stole | Posted 4/3/2002

I've been married for two and a half years to a man whom I dated for a year before that. During our courtship he never showed any signs of the problem I'm dealing with now. He is obsessed with cleanliness and order. He flies into a rage if the dishes aren't washed right away or if the house gets cluttered. He has threatened to leave me if I don't learn to keep the place neat. I'm not a slob, but neither am I particularly tidy, and it's hard to keep up with the housework after a full day at the office. He has also become far less attentive romantically than he used to be; now all he wants is to get on and get off fast. When I asked him about it, he told me that maybe if I kept the house cleaner he'd feel more affectionate. Well, finally I'd had enough and told him I was leaving, and now he's begging me to stay, saying he'll do anything to keep me. He's even offering to go to counseling. I don't know what to do.

No Picker Upper

Dear No Picker:
One of the things I hate most about our stupid American prudishness is that we're so obsessed with sex that the rest of married life is totally ignored. There should be a law requiring all engaged couples to live together at least six months before they can even apply for a license. Then you could have a good idea of whether or not you're really sexually compatible; equally important, that's also enough time for company manners to wear off and each person's real attitudes toward home, life, and housework to surface.

You'd know if you were hitching up to a spitter, for example, or a recreational farter, or someone likely to smoke at the table and stub his cigarette out on his plate before you've finished eating. Or someone who, once the duties of courtship were over, would find getting off the couch for anything besides another beer more effort than it was worth. And it would certainly be time enough to figure out that the person you're planning to live with for the rest of your life is a manipulative control freak who is going to make your life hell if he doesn't get his own way every damn minute of every damn day.

Controllers are usually very good at making you think that any problems you're having are your own fault. If you had done this differently or that better, everything would be fine. Your husband is a pro. He's even tied your sex life to it. That you've had enough is a good sign that you're strong enough not to buy into it. It is very hard for people like this to admit they might be part of the problem, but if he is truly willing to try counseling--as a means of working things out and not just as a ploy to keep you around so he can continue to work you--it might be worth a try. Get a counselor who's going to make him take on some of the household chores, though, or hire a maid. My bet is that if it's not the housework that upsets him it will be something else, but this could relieve some of the pressure.

My girlfriend and I were crazy about each other. For two years, we were incredibly happy and she couldn't tell me enough how much she cared about me. Then we had a few stupid arguments and we stopped talking. After a few weeks, I really missed her and called her, but she said she needed more time and would call me when she was ready. I couldn't let it go, though, and kept pestering her until she finally said she was no longer in love with me and to leave her alone. She said that a lot of hurtful things had been building up and she didn't want to try again. I begged her to talk to me about it, but she won't. I keep feeling that if she would just see me and talk to me we could work everything out, but I don't know how to make that happen. Is there something I can do?

Would Do Anything

Dear Would,
Sweetie, I know you don't want to hear this, but if she wants you to leave her alone, that's all you can do. You can't force people to love you. You can't trick them into it and you can't turn back time. I know exactly how you feel, though: If you could just see her, make her understand how much you care, that everything would be all right again. You want to believe that the right words or the perfect gesture are all she needs to rekindle the warmth she once felt. I wish with all my heart that this were true, that you really can heal a broken relationship by throwing enough love at it. But there are some things in life that you have no control over, and that includes other people's hearts.

Try not to beat yourself up over how you handled this. While it's true that pestering her was probably not the smartest thing you could have done, that is not the reason you broke up. But you have to stop now. When a door has been closed and locked, the only thing you get from banging on it are bruises to your pride and self-esteem. Or, if she really wants to make her point, a restraining order.

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